I'm interested in purchasing a hot-air popcorn popper. I grew up with a Wear-Ever Popcorn Pumper, which holds the unpopped corn in a metal cup with angled slots for air on the sides (so that the corn spins as it's being popped).

On the other hand, almost all of the poppers I've found for sale today (I admit, I only looked on Amazon, and a lot of them seem to be the same thing in different plastic) are described as having the air coming in from the bottom, moving directly upwards.

I also notice that the reviews of these poppers often talk about unpopped kernels being blown into the bowl (which I know happens even under the best conditions) or debris falling through the grate and burning up on the heater (!).

Is the vertically-blowing design actually inferior so that I should be trying to find a better grade of popper? More generally, how do I evaluate a hot-air popper (absent trying it in person)?

  • 1
    Reading your question brings to mind the thought, what defines good tasting popcorn (clearly subjective, I know)? Does time from cold-to-popped kernel affect taste? I have to suspect that the oil used---if any---plays a big role (I know these vertical poppers [typically?] don't use oil). Perhaps a perfectly designed device would apply equally distributed heat to each kernel over time, thus the time from cold-to-popped kernel being the same, while not burning any. I can't say what design would accomplish this though. Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 14:12

6 Answers 6


All of this techniques are simply trying to get an evenly, uniform amount of heat to all kernels. If one part of the machine or blower gets more heat than the rest, then you will first start hearing the kernels pop. Then a brief silence. Then other popcorns The rest that did not get the same heat as the first ones) start popping. By the time this second kernels stop popping, the first should be burned out.

So several ways have been created to solved this. You got horizontal heat blowing, diagonal heat blowing (This cases involved a bowl like container). Then you got the vertical heat blowers. Most of this are meant to do 2 things:

  1. Create enough heat at the bottom and blow it up until the kernels pop.
  2. Make the popped kernels literally blow out to the top of the machine and on to a bowl of some sort.

The problem here is that, what happens if a kernel is at the bottom and it pops, but this same kernel has way too many kernels on top of it. By the time it gets blowned out, it will be almost burned or totally burned. This is the most common problem with this vertical ones (I bought one long ago). the ones left are either burned or not popped yet.

What I would look if I wanted a popcorn maker would be:

Vertical Popcorn Makers

  • Enough space where the kernels are heated for them to move (Since heating them will make them start jumping because of the amount of heat/energy received) and to come out quickly.

  • The height of the place where the kernels are left should be low to help them come out quickly.

  • If the space where they are is very narrow, there is a bigger chance they will burn while trying to escape their doom.

  • Kernels should not be thrown in with butter or any other sticky liquid, since this liquid will make them stay on the bottom and will burn more of them faster.

Horizontal Popcorn Makers

  • Make sure it actually spins. If they do not spin, make sure the airflow circles around the machine in a somewhat evenly distributed airflow. This should also take care of moving the kernels. If not, then kernels that stay on the borders longer will burn. For this cases, the center should have something that kicks the kernels to the borders, making sure they all pop quickly.

  • The space inside the machine should be in the shape of a circle so it can spin better and heat the kernels evenly. If you see a machine that starts making some socially acceptable figures that are not circles (Like a Horizontal Unicorn shaped popcorn maker) do not buy it. It will eventually burn more kernels than a circle which is the best way for airflow to work it's magic on the kernels.

Diagonal Popcorn Makers

  • Tips from the 2 above should be applied here. Typically they will either give you an option to spit the popcorns from the top to a bowl or from the side. In any case, watch out for space for kernels to move and heat sources.

For all the cases above, there is another small, minor, insignificant detail in regards to this machines:

  • Do not use plastic ones. They will not last since we are talking about a machine that will heat kernels to the point of popping them. It is much better a metal based one and have the handles be made of plastic, but never have the actual plastic be in the same place where the kernels will get heat and pop.

What I would suggest, if I may be so bold is to either use the microwave or the stove. In both cases you get the same result. On the stove you actually need to be moving the popcorn with a spoon until you see all kernels popped. In the microwave, you need to make sure they are evenly left on popcorn bag for example. Making sure they are not all push to the borders (That would make the kernels on the borders pop first and burn first before all kernels are popped) or push them all to the middle (Same effect but with kernels left in the middle).

Just some tips to look for some of this machines and ways of doing great popcorn.


The first answer is wrong in the part about blowing up.... that only blows out UN-popped kernels before they even have a chance to pop (as in as soon as you turn it on). I have had as much has half un-popped in that design. The best have side vents and a solid bottom that spin the kernels and they only exit after it has popped with more wind resistance to carry it out. Generally very few un-popped kernels with this design. This design has caused people wanting to roast their own coffee (too cheap to buy a real coffee roaster) to use them at the risk of fire from bean chaff and overheating. Coffee beans need more heat for much longer than popcorn kernels making use of any popcorn popper as a bean roaster a bad idea. This in turn has caused popper manufactures to abandon the best design because of the product abuse and fear of liability from said product abuse.


The slots on the side, imparting an upward swirling motion to the kernels, is essential! I have used both kinds. The newer ones with just the holes on the bottom of the hot chamber are terrible...They blow kernels everywhere. If I could find the old style Wearever with the slots I'd snatch it up in an instant.


Swirling for sure! Yes it matters! (but maybe not at a critical level) I had a swirler years ago and it was great.

Recently got a up/vertical and meh. I get a lot more unpopped kernels in the bowl once the popping starts, but just at the beginning. Once there is a full unit of popped kernels, its good until the last few stubborn ones at the end of the cycle. Some kernels will even pop in the bowl (that can make a slight mess :) )

The swirl gives a centrifugal force for the kernels and keeps them to the sides. The vertical puts the kernel in limbo for a popping kernel to knock it out into the bowl.

Just food for thought (pun intended)

  • Since asking the question I've lived with a vertical-blowing popper, and a possibly interesting observation: I have found that I get fewer unpopped kernels in the bowl if I put a full portion of corn in, than with a partial one.
    – Kevin Reid
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 0:20

I would get a hot air popping machine that is not the plastic bubble kind but a machine that swirls the kernals. I have had my phillps party popper for over 35 years and it still works like brand new. Get an upright air popper and save way more money and time over using microwave or stove top methods. There pretty cheap @ about 10 -20$ and most pop very fast. Right now I pay 2.75 cad for 1 kg of generic kernals which imo are just as good as any other kernels out there. My self I use margarine in a bpa free bottle and some store bought seasonings. Total cost is about 4.95 for over 2 lbs popped and seasoned. Happy popping.

  • that doesn't answer the question being asked: does airflow matter? check How to Answer
    – Luciano
    Commented May 8 at 9:42

no it does not matter and you should look for one that works

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